In early 1959, Bro. Dr. Robert L. Gill, Professor of Political Science at Morgan State College, dispatched several Brothers to interview the undergraduate Founders of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity to construct a biography of each Founder for inclusion in the upcoming history book, A History of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. In late 1959, Bro. William Charles Jason, Jr., submitted a biographical manuscript of Founder Cooper developed based on interviews between Cooper and Jason.
Bro. Jason was a charter member of Mu Chapter when it was organized at the University of Pennsylvania in May 1923, serving as its first Keeper of Seals and second Basileus. During his 65 years in the Fraternity, he held numerous Chapter, District, and National roles and was highly regarded among the Brothers in Philadelphia, including Founder Cooper, who knew him well. Bro. Jason’s father, William C. Jason, Sr., served as the second president of the State College for Colored Students (now Delaware State University) from 1895 to 1923, and his cousin, William Barrington Jason, was one of the first initiates into the Fraternity through Alpha Chapter on February 28, 1912.
Upon the completion of the biography on Founder Cooper, Bro. Jason submitted the document to Bro. Gill for inclusion in the forthcoming Omega History Book. However, the biographies of the Founders were removed from inclusion in the final book by the Editorial Committee of the History Book Project. In 2014, the original, unpublished biography of Founder Cooper from Bro. Jason was discovered. The following is an excerpt of that biography on the creation of Omega and Alpha Chapter from Founder Cooper.
Almost every day for the next eight years, I would find young Cooper walking and talking with fellow students going to and from the Howard University campus. Disciplined through the voluntary penning of lines to his own satisfaction, broadened by extracurricular activity in the Literary Club, and deliberately oratorical, Cooper’s conversations came to be easy, enjoyable, precise, and positive. Casually at first, then with a frequency that became habitual, Oscar J. Cooper was joined by day student and classmate Edgar A. Love on his walks to school. Cooper’s accustomed way to the Sixth Street campus gate passed the house where Edgar A. Love lived. Equally clear in vision, firm in conviction, and determined in purpose, this association ripened into a friendship that brooked no secrets. All and any topics received. The objective, analytical ability of two minds purged themselves in discussion and debate as they walked.
In the early fall of 1911, as Love and Cooper walked to the Howard campus, they exchanged confidences and revealed that each had been approached by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and requested to write a letter seeking membership. Neither was inclined to do so. The idea of being required to petition for the privilege of joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity had little or no appeal to them. True leadership qualities suggested that they found a fraternity. The one common thought in support of this at the time, as expressed in Bro. Cooper’s notebook was:
“Since there existed but one Fraternity in the University, it would be likely to degenerate unless there was some (parallel) opposing force to check it, and the existence of another fraternity would, therefore, better the fraternal status.”
Thus on this day in October 1911, as the two day students passed through the Sixth Street gate to the Howard campus, they decided: WE WILL BUILD A FRATERNITY. Because young Cooper, through his studious application to scientific teachings, had been a student assistant for more than a year to the eminent professor of biology, Dr. E.E. Just, it was agreed as they parted that Cooper discuss the possibilities of such a venture with this sensitive, friendly, faculty member.
Professor Just was favorably inclined. In fact, he was enthusiastic to the point that he agreed to give them every possible assistance and such advice as his role as a faculty member would permit. The three decided that the magnitude of the task demanded the assistance of another able fellow. Frank Coleman was the student, also a junior, agreed upon as the available man most capable of equal participation in such a venture. Coleman consented and indicated that he had thought of the feasibility of such an effort himself.
The total number of hours consumed by Love, Coleman, and Cooper, sometimes with and sometimes without Professor Just, between October 1 and November 15, 1911, in discussing and planning this honored effort can never be determined. The proceedings of the meeting of November 15, 1911 – the one pre-organizational meeting of record – have been preserved for us in the handwriting of O.J. Cooper, acting secretary. Notwithstanding their brevity, they show such a complete unanimity of purpose and determination to found a fraternity that they suggest many hours of previous discussion and debate.
Between the meeting of Wednesday, November 15, and the great organizational meeting of November 17, 1911, was two days filled with limitless activity on the part of each of the three student founders and their advisor. But much of the material legislated and approved on that date had been thought out and amassed prior to November 17. Between the organizational meeting of November 17 and the election meeting of November 23, when the first grand officers were elected, Edgar A. Love, Grand Basileus, Oscar J. Cooper, Grand Keeper of Records, Frank Coleman, Grand Keeper of Seals, there had been the same amount of feverish activity which found expression in the proceedings that were on the date kept in the handwriting and over the signature of “O. J. Cooper, Acting Secretary.” For clear thinking, we consider the eight days, November 15 to November 23, 1911, to have been a single session with recesses.
The recorded minutes of the meeting on November 23, 1911, list 14 men known as charter members of Omega Psi Phi. They total 14. The omission of the 15th name, John H. Purcell, was for his employment security. Working in the office of Dr. Lewis B. Moore of Teachers College, it was inadvisable to list him as one actively participating in an organization that had no assurance of winning faculty approval. Thus, fourteen Brothers comprised the Chapter for the first 90 days. On Wednesday, December 15, 1911, a temporary chapter, later to be known as Alpha Chapter, was established consisting of the fourteen charter members with its leadership being Frank Coleman, Basileus, Edgar Amos Love, Keeper of Records, and Oscar James Cooper, Keeper of Seals. It was not until February 21, 1912, that the membership was enlarged. On that date, J. Raymond (Bish) Johnson, William B. (Big Bill) Jason, Moses Claybourne, and C.C. Cooke became members of Alpha Chapter by vote. The distinction was indicated at the meeting of February 28, 1912, when the first group of 14 took the oath of allegiance to the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, while the second group of 4 became the first members by initiation. At that time, new officers were elected for the permanent chapter, Alpha, with Edgar P. Westmoreland being selected as Basileus, C.C. Cooke as Keeper of Records, and Frank Wimberly as Keeper of Seals. It is proper to consider February 28, 1912, as the date of permanent and complete organization for the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity except for its incorporation on October 28, 1914, by the U.S. Congress on the petition of Edgar A. Love, Grand Basileus, Oscar J. Cooper, Grand Keeper of Records, and Frank Coleman, Grand Keeper of Seals.
Beginning with the day in October when Founder Cooper approached Professor Just for his thinking on the advisability of founding a fraternity until March 1912, there had been an ever-increasing effort on the part of those identified with the movement to persuade the Howard University faculty that the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity should be permitted to organize and recognized as a desirable student influence in the growth and development of America’s leading Negro university. In support of this, they pointed to the history and program of the university, the caliber of men identified with the movement, their scholastic status, and their proven leadership ability. It is impossible to trace the order or the number of conferences between representative spokesmen for the infant Fraternity and faculty members, some of whom were officially designated to hear. In contrast, others listened to it as an incident of social conversation. This is certain: a softening up of the opposition did take place. As more and more faculty members became favorably impressed, the Fraternity witnessed perseverance's relevance and meaning.
The date early in 1912 when the Fraternity prepared at some cost the rather elaborate 3 ½ x 5 ½ card, which featured in purple the Seal, the four Cardinal Principles, the name of the organization, the date of its founding, and 18 members within a gold border on a white background is uncertain. This places the printing one meeting beyond that of February 28 – the second week in March. The preparation of this card was a planned effort to move the Howard faculty to take favorable official action on the recognition of the Fraternity, thereby assuring its placement in the public life of the university. One of these original cards, preserved by Brother Cooper, is reproduced here. These cards were placed on every tree, door, and window that could be reached by some 18 men early one morning in March 1912. Its color scheme and neatness, along with the abandonment of its distribution, could not be ignored, even by the hitherto adamant president of the University, Dr. Thirkield. The following day, when Dr. Thirkield arose in Rankin Chapel to address the student body, he announced, “There is no such organization as the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.” The president did consent to a conference with official spokesmen for the Fraternity. This audience gave him the opportunity to personally take to task each one of the Founders for the distribution of a card that had littered the university campus. The maturity of the arguments presented by the three Founders, the division of their presentations among themselves, and the disciplined manner in which each spoke his piece indicates that the interview was quickly followed by the faculty recognition of March 19, 1912 and that the juniors had spent plenty of time in preparing their material and organizing it for such a presentation. The action of the faculty in March was based upon documents submitted to the president by the Fraternity officers many weeks prior to “Card Night.” It was “Card Night” that pressured the decision. With the majority of the faculty now favorably impressed by the infant organization, those who insisted that the recognition be dependent upon the promise of the Fraternity to remain forever a local organization, exclusively amenable to the jurisdiction of the Howard faculty. Here again, the Brothers' maturity and knowledge of things is revealed. They made no open issue over the demand that the Fraternity remain local. They tabled action on this point on two occasions and instructed their committee on faculty recognition to continue efforts on behalf of the Fraternity. Late in March or early in April 1912, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity won faculty recognition, with the issue of its being local or national unresolved.
We would call the period October 1911 to June 1912 the Period of Organization. During that time, a Grand Chapter had come into existence, Alpha Chapter had been organized, the identity of officers in the two interlocking groups had been established, a banner had been secured, which made possible the picture of record “Alpha Chapter 1912 of 33 Brothers.”
The order of business for meetings operated by Alpha Chapter during this period is noteworthy:
Thus, the Fraternity was ritual-minded, composed of praying men who did not let time interfere with approving worthy applicants seeking membership in the Fraternity. All phases of Omega activity intended to perfect its organization, laying claim to what Brother Cooper could make available apart from his studies, teaching, and outside work. He held Grand and Chapter offices continuously while in Washington. The duties of the secretary followed him as Mary’s little lamb.
The Cardinal Principles of the Fraternity and the Escutcheon adopted at the organization meeting of November 17, 1911, as the Constitution authorized on November 13, 1911, and adopted with faculty approval sometime before June 1912, were the composite effort of all the Founders. The writing of a ritual required more time. Notations of what Founder Cooper felt to be proper ritual material were penciled among his 1913 class lecture notes. That Alpha Chapter used some ritual from November 1911 to January 1914 is quite sure, but the finished work, a complete ritual, was not adopted until February 4, 1914. On that date, Brother Cooper presented his version of a complete Omega Psi Phi Fraternity ritual at a regular meeting for approval. Although a first-year medical student, he had taken three weeks off from school in January to complete this assignment. So satisfactory was the workmanship that it was adopted without change. Its excellence is attested by its continuous use for 45 years with few changes.
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